A "RESPECTED" Stourbridge businessman has been put behind bars for ten years for using an industrial unit as a cover for a well organised drug trafficking racket.

Ross Richards - described as having set up a highly successful property firm - was one of four people jailed for more than 31 years for their roles in the crooked scheme.

Judge Michael Challinor at Wolverhampton Crown Court told the four defendants: "This was a sustained and well-planned commercial operation aimed at supplying dealers with significant quantities of cocaine for street supply.

"The purpose of the sentence is for deterrence, punishment and the protection of the public. Sophisticated drug traffickers like you have to be put out of circulation for as long as possible."

Richards was also found to have three stolen luxury cars worth £68,000 and £116,000 worth of stolen property when police raided the unit in Wharf Road, Stourbridge.

The property recovered in a two-day search of the premises included car parts, trailers, luxury bathroom fittings and fork lift truck - John Butterfield, prosecuting, said.

He told the court that in his basis of plea 38-year-old Richards maintained he had been asked to look after the goods by others "higher up the chain" and he had played no part in their theft.

Richards, of Heathlands, Stourbridge, had denied conspiracy to supply cocaine but was convicted by a jury at the end of his three-month trial.

Stephen Hunt, aged 33, of Edgehill Road, Eamon Henry, aged 28, of Marston Road, Weoley Castle, and 32-year-old Laura Simmons, of Sir Hiltons Road, West Heath, all Birmingham, had also denied the conspiracy charge.

But along with Richards they were all found guilty on unanimous verdicts after the jury retired for nearly three days to consider the evidence.

Richards admitted handling stolen goods and was told by the Judge it was clear he had played a leading role in the cocaine conspiracy having provided premises as a cover for the operation.

Hunt was also jailed for ten years by the Judge; Henry was sent to prison for seven years, while Simmons was locked up for four-and-a half years.

Philip Bown, defending Richards, said his client had featured in only one day in the 35-day conspiracy and no evidence of drug dealing had been found when police searched the industrial unit he was renting.

Mr Brown said Richards was a respected businessman and dedicated family man, who had built up a property firm that members of his family were now "trying to keep afloat".

Prosecutor Mr Butterfield said Richards would face a further court hearing in the future when property could be seized under the Proceeds of Crime Act.